The Happiness Project

Six Ways To Boost Your Sense of Self-Respect

Every Wednesday is Tip Day. This Wednesday: Six tips for boosting your sense of self-respect.

Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe you didn’t get the promotion you were hoping for. Maybe your sweetheart broke up with you. People say, “Don’t take it personally” and “Don’t let it get to you,” but that’s very hard to do.

If you’re feeling disheartened, what are some strategies for making yourself feel better about yourself? It’s pretty clear that repeating “I’m the greatest!” or winning a trophy along with every other second-grade soccer player isn’t a good way to build healthy self-esteem.

At the same time, it’s a rare person who isn’t sometimes—or often—plagued with painful self-doubt. When you’re feeling lousy about yourself, what can you do to feel better?

Here’s the secret. To build your self-respect, do something worthy of your respect. To like yourself better, do something that makes you likable. It’s tempting to think that support and encouragement from other people will reassure you, but A) often that doesn’t work and B) often you can’t compel other people to give you a pep talk.

Here are some strategies to try:

1. Do a good deed . This is as selfish as it is selfless; you’ll benefit as much as the person you’re helping. I had a friend who went through a period of tremendous rejection: She was fired from her job, she didn’t get into the graduate program to which she’d applied, and her boyfriend broke up with her. Everything worked out fine in the end, and I asked her how she got through such a tough time. She said, “I was practically addicted to doing good deeds for other people. It was the only way I could make myself feel like I wasn’t a total loser.” Along the same lines …

2. Make small gestures of good citizenship . Bring your old magazines to the gym so other people can read them. Offer directions to someone who looks lost. Sign up to be an organ donor . My current favorite: picking up trash that other people have left on the subway.

3. Keep a resolution . Not only will you benefit from exercising or cleaning out your garage, you’ll also get a boost from the mere fact that you made a commitment and stuck to it.

4. Become an expert . There’s great satisfaction in mastery. Pick a subject that interests you and dig in deep: the American Revolution, Photoshop, knife techniques. This can be hard, because learning something new can also make you feel frustrated and stupid, but if you push through, you’ll give yourself a huge boost. Be sure to pick something that honestly engages you: Become an expert on The Sopranos , if that sounds enticing, but don’t decide to learn about wine just because you think other people will be impressed. You’re much less likely to stick with it, so you won’t benefit as much.

5. Boost your energy . Studies show that when you’re feeling energetic, you’re much more likely to feel good about yourself. Most important: Get enough sleep. If you need an emergency energy fix , take a quick 10-minute walk (outside, if possible, where sunlight will also stimulate your brain), listen to some great music, or talk to a friend.

6. Challenge yourself physically . This strategy doesn’t work for me, but I know that many people feel great after parasailing, white-water rafting, bungee jumping, or roller coaster riding. For the less daring, a great run, bike ride, or spinning class can do the trick.

* I’ve written about Wordle before, but I can’t resist mentioning it again. It’s a toy for generating beautiful word clouds—and is just so fun and fabulous. I keep meaning to figure out how to use Wordle to make gifts; seems like there must be a way.

* Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just e-mail me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.